In order to provide support to families most affected by Santa Clara County’s shelter-in-place order, Palo Alto Unified School District started delivering free meals to students during lunchtime starting Aug.17. Lunches can be picked up through drive-thru meal pickup at Greene, Gunn and JLS and delivered directly to Buena Vista Mobile Home Park.
Nutrition Services Director Alva Spence said breakfast and lunch will be offered to students 18 years or younger, most likely until the end of the first semester.
“Under an extension of the current Emergency COVID-19 Seamless Summer Program Waiver, all school districts can offer breakfast and lunch to students,” Spence said. “We currently cannot give out meals on weekends or holidays so the last day would be Dec. 18 for free meals in PAUSD unless the United States Department of Agriculture extends this waiver again.”
Spence said there are a few key differences between the current system and how free meals used to work when school was in-person.
“All meals are free,” Spence said. “So there is no need to give student ID numbers.”
Additionally, parents can now pick up meals on a drive-thru basis without students present, and meals can now be delivered directly to student’s homes in a contactless manner.
Parents can decide if they want students to receive already-made meals or if the families would like to prepare the meals at home.
The USDA and the California Department of Education, fund the service, and they reimburse the district for every meal it serves. PAUSD District Food Service staff at Gunn, JLS and Greene prepare the meals.
However, if PAUSD students return to campus for in-person learning, the rules and regulations surrounding the food distribution program will change.
“As PAUSD students are allowed back on campus for in-person learning, the food distribution program will be altered per Health Department guidelines,” Spence said. “Current elementary guidelines have us delivering lunches directly to classrooms for younger students–K-Third grade–and having upper grades–Fourth-Fifth–socially distancing through an outdoor lunch line to pick up meals.”
Spence said depending on what PAUSD decides, the district may return to providing free meals to only those who qualify for free or reduced meals based on family income.
“If USDA does not extend the Emergency COVID-19 SSO waiver again, PAUSD will have to switch back to the National School Breakfast and Lunch Programs,” Spence said. “We would only be allowed to feed students enrolled in PAUSD schools, and we would have to charge student meals according to whichever students qualify for meals: free, reduced or full pay.”
With guidelines surrounding COVID-19 forcing constant changes, Spence and the district are still unsure whether the current distribution method of free meals for every student will continue during the school year.
“This is the million-dollar question,” Spence said. “We are all learning to adapt to the constantly changing Health Department and safety guidelines and steps to return to on-campus learning and our new normal. We need to be prepared to continue to innovate, change course, and adapt to the ways that we can offer meals.”